August 20, 2011 in Washington Voices

Valley Fire budget in good shape

Expected increase of 3 percent due to salaries, cost of supplies
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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The 2012 budget outlook for the Spokane Valley Fire Department appears healthy after fire commissioners spent time this week discussing property tax collections and a wish list of special items.

The budget is expected to increase by 3 percent to $29 million, up from $28.2 million in 2011, said Chief Mike Thompson. The increase is largely due to scheduled pay increases and higher costs for supplies and services. The department is also in the midst of negotiations for a new three-year collective bargaining agreement.

A wild card is the department’s Labor and Industry fees, which probably won’t be known until late this year, Thompson said. Last year the rates went up an unexpected 13.6 percent for administration staff, 36 percent for firefighters and nearly 31 percent for the department’s mechanics. “We’ve sustained a lot of paper cuts in the office,” Thompson joked.

The unexpected bright spot was the estimated property tax collection for 2012. Thompson said he was planning on a drop of 5 percent, but recent numbers from Spokane County indicate the estimated taxes should only drop by 1.5 percent. “We were quite surprised when we got that,” he said.

“That’s not bad at all,” said Commissioner Bill Anderson.

The department is looking at projected revenues of $31.2 million for 2012, Thompson said. A $10.7 million carryover is expected at the end of 2011. The department maintains a reserve of 25 percent of the annual budget, leaving a balance of about $4.8 million. That money could be used to pay for the department’s wish list, Thompson said. The list includes $400,000 for video conferencing equipment, $1.8 million for the demolition and construction of Station 6 and nearly $500,000 for a new fire engine.

Commissioner Kolby Hanson asked if the department could make a down payment for the new fire engine to freeze the cost and then pay the balance in 2013. “It would be less of an impact,” he said.

Commissioner Monte Nesbitt said he favored purchasing equipment for the video conferencing. It could be used for some types of training, said Thompson, which would improve response times because crews could stay in their individual stations. “To me, that’s a huge priority,” Nesbitt said.

Public hearings will be held on the proposed budget later this year.

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